In 2008 I landed in Mumbai, excited and in awe of the mega machine that some how entangles 20 million lives each trying to find their way amongst the chaos. I had no idea that first day as I looked out the cracked window of the ageing taxi, passing tin shacks, slums and high rises, that this city would come to mean so much to me. Unbeknownst to me, during that very first ride from the airport, I would pass right by the Saki Naka slum, where beneath the bridge, a man named Ashley Pereira stood proudly outside the one-room slum school, watching over hundreds of families like they were his own.
It would be more than a year until we would meet.
In the first year DWP accomplished more than I thought possible. DWP set up health camps in Rajasthan and serviced over 2500 people with free medical diagnosis and medication, and I had just completed my second fundraising drive in Canada. I was eager to tackle the big city and find out what Mumbai was really like.
The amazing thing about Ashley is that he somehow manages to listen to every ones problems and in an urban slum in India the line of people that need help is endless. In my time with Ashley, I have witnessed him help in every conceivable way whether it be land disputes, domestic violence, medical, educational or simply helping illiterate people sign forms or pay bills. His phone is always on and almost always out of batteries. Ashley routinely answers phone calls in the middle of the night from grief stricken mothers in need of help and somehow finds a way to get them what they need. What amazed me is that he managed all of this with little to no funding. I was instantly inspired by the way he worked, one man against all odds doing everything he can without the need for recognition or reward.
Being fairly new to this work, I was in awe of this selfless man. Social work is difficult on a good day but social work in a slum community is a whole different game. DWP is now in the second year of operation and Ashley and I have been working side by side for the past year.
Every good band needs a front man as does every charity, and over the last year I have become the face of our hard work as the Indian media has started to recognize our work in the community. The Mumbai Mirror, The Times of India and the Mumbai Mid-day papers have covered stories on our slum clean-up projects in Saki Naka. While this is great for both of us, it has left me frustrated. The focus is always on me and what I’ve done to improve the lives of this community. Ashley has spent 10 years working under the radar for this community doing everything he can with little help. For me to cruise down and take all the credit after just a year isn’t right. The media is interested in the efforts of a lone white man, out of his element, heading into a developing country to help the underprivileged. Look at recent books like “Three Cups of Tea” or Shantaram, or popular movies. I truly appreciate the coverage we have received and respect the journalists who I have met along the way, but, I don´t deserve all the credit.
There is no doubt I work hard and face different stresses than Ashley. I’m in a country where I don’t understand the language, helping people who have a different value system and culture. I am constantly trying to understand and navigate the endless cultural differences that separate me and the people I strive to help.
But lets focus on Ashley, a man completely focused on helping his own city and countrymen. He does this not to gain media attention but simply because he truly believes he has the means to help. If you calculated Ashley’s hourly wage with the hours he puts in, he would make less than the people that he helps day in and day out. Social work in India is difficult and many times a thankless task. The stress and mental fatigue of being a constant witness to horrible situations take a toll.
Ashley is not only my friend but the sole reason I am able to do the work that I do in Mumbai. I have learned, watched, and been amazed by his work ethic. Every decision DWP makes usually begins with a discussion in a bumpy, gas wheezing, rickshaw ride on the way to a hospital or school. I rely on his knowledge of the community and the many religions and cultures that I am still learning.
Kane Ryanbombay, Dirty Wall Project, documentary, donate, education, fundraising, India, janvi trust, Kane Ryan, medicine, Mumbai, orphanage, Photography, saki naka, school, slum, sponsorship, travel, victoria, volunteer